The Alcove Library Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City: Review

The Alcove Library Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), VietnamIn a city like Ho Chi Minh City, known for its chaotic, non-stop traffic and ever-hooting motorbikes, having somewhere to escape the frenzy can make it easier to get the most out of a visit. The Alcove Library Hotel provides just such an oasis from Saigon’s frenzy, and is a hotel worthy of any trip to Vietnam’s southern capital.

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Close to Ho Chi Minh City’s airport, The Alcove Library Hotel is set a little outside of the city’s main traveller action, yet in reality is only a 15-minute, VND 60,000 hop by taxi from Ben Tanh market in District 1. Its location on a small, local alley adds to the appeal of the Alcove as something of a retreat – though there is still plenty of motorbike traffic for this to be easily recognisable as Saigon. The downside to the hotel’s more far-flung location is the presence of less street food than in more central areas. As is to be expected, fewer English speakers also make it somewhat harder to order what food there is available.

The Alcove Library Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

We had a hilarious encounter on our first evening, at a nameless eatery a short walk from the hotel, as I attempted to use my very limited Vietnamese to order a banh mi sandwich – getting at first just a plain baguette (the word ‘banh mi’ means ‘bread’ in the simplest of forms, as well as the street sandwich we know it as), followed by a bowl of soup, and ending with something resembling a banh mi sandwich but still not quite on the mark. That didn’t stop us from indulging in a sinful amount of Vietnamese street food on subsequent days, of course – including plenty of banh mi sandwiches and a seafood spread that is easily one of the best meals I’ve had for a long time.

RECOMMENDED: Book The Alcove Library Hotel online with Agoda

The Alcove Library Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Hotel staff were friendly but, given the Alcove otherwise rightly bills itself as a boutique hotel, could have been more knowledgeable; we asked for food and drink recommendations in the surrounding area and were simply told to walk out of the hotel and turn a corner in order to find a coffee shop. An idea of must-eat dishes and restaurants, either immediately nearby or elsewhere in the city, would have been welcome. In addition, a booking mix-up meant the queen room we’d selected had been changed to a twin. However, this was quickly remedied, and on the whole staff seemed to want to help, and the bellboy service was certainly attentive. A welcome drink would enhance the check-in experience, as much as anything for the chance it would provide to slow down and soak up the ambience of the lobby and its stunning tiled floor – the Alcove is one hotel where that really feels called for.

The Alcove Library Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

A pretty, well-tended courtyard fronts the hotel, and lends itself to an overall impressive, cared-for ambience – though, while the hotel as a whole benefits from plenty of natural light, the courtyard itself could do with a little more of the artificial kind at night. The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that fringe the reception desk and welcome guests passing through the all-glass frontage are impressive, though they are the only real evidence of the library hotel theme. A few literary quotes line the corridors, true – but otherwise the book theme could be carried through the Alcove a little more.

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Generously proportioned bedrooms have lovely wooden flooring, and welcome touches like dressing gowns and slippers that perfectly fit the Alcove’s price bracket. This is true also of the dreamy beds, with thick duvets and firm pillows. Perhaps our room’s killer feature was the bathroom – while only small, it was beautifully tiled and the dual rain and power shower had potentially the best water temperature and pressure I’ve encountered at a hotel in Asia. Wonderfully steaming, combined with the lovely citrus notes of the complimentary shower gel and shampoo it made for a very luxurious shower experience.

The Alcove Library Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Carrying on the luxury, boutique theme, the mini-bar is stocked with the usual suspects alongside artisanal snacks made in Vietnam that include roasted cashews, almonds and lotus seeds. The Alcove offers a laundry service, but my only wish is that they would shake free of the old-fashioned-hotel-style laundry order forms. It’s true, too, that the rooms suffer from a little bit of notice overkill, which somewhat infringes on the otherwise very tranquil feel. That aside, the only improvement I would make to these rooms would be to make use of the available space to squeeze in a small armchair (though the only view to be had from our window was of three other walls above a tiny courtyard).

RECOMMENDED: Book The Alcove Library Hotel online with Agoda

The Alcove Library Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

The incredibly pleasant rooftop bar and restaurant sits partly inside and partly out, with the outdoor area catching a gentle breeze. Combine that with soft music, hanging fern-like plants tumbling from repurposed coconut shells, and views of rooftop terraces at the same level in neighbouring buildings, and you have all the makings of a sudden urge to own one of these townhouses and wallow away the evenings up here. These are the same feelings that consumed me in Hanoi back in 2008, enjoying a spot of lunch from a similar vantage point with staff at the kindergarten I volunteered at, while the rascals took their midday snooze several floors below.

A small menu of fusion Vietnamese and western dishes is accompanied by a selection of wines and beers at not-extortionate-though-well-above-streetside prices – around VND 40,000 for beers, and wine by the glass starting at VND 100,000. It’s a shame that there is a distinct lack of cocktails, since the setting would be perfect for them, and their wine supply had also been depleted when we dropped by on our first evening.

RECOMMENDED: Book The Alcove Library Hotel online with Agoda

The Alcove Library Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Breakfast is nothing short of understated, simple-yet-spectacularly-effected pleasure. The heavenly banana-topped French toast, made from split and sliced baguette, is something I still dream of months later; the all-you-can-eat menu also features a cheese omelette with a delicious balsamic-dressed salad; fried eggs on toast; sweet pancakes; chicken or beef pho noodles; and rice congee porridge. All of these are served with fresh passion fruit, dragon fruit and watermelon, stunning yoghurt (The Guardian was right, it might just be the best in Ho Chi Minh City, and its depth and creaminess are things I just can’t find in Bangkok) and tea, coffee or soft lemonade. I am generally bad at making it to hotel breakfasts, but it’s no word of a lie to say that the Alcove had me leaping out of bed every morning. It’s that yoghurt in particular – not the baguettes, the banh mi on every corner, or the huge raw oysters we had one evening – that make me realise that a trip to Ho Chi Minh City is like a culinary excursion to western Europe, while keeping all the best bits of Asia.

The Alcove Library Hotel, 133A Nguyễn Đình Chính; 08 6256 9966
Book online with Agoda for the best available rates!

DISCLOSURE: I stayed at The Alcove Library Hotel at my own expense. All of the opinions in this article are of course my own.

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